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Extended Bereavement Leave

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Employers frequently ask how to handle an employee’s request for an extended absence following a death in the immediate family.

Key issues to consider are an employee’s ability to access paid leave and applicability of family and medical leave.

Some school districts and community colleges provide paid leave specifically for bereavement purposes in addition to other paid leave (e.g., personal leave, sick leave). Provisions addressed in policy and regulations will define the following:

  • The categories of employees eligible for bereavement leave
  • The number of days provided
  • Family relationships eligible for leave
  • Accumulation limits
  • Guidelines regarding the ability to carry over unused days into the next year

Employers that don’t provide paid bereavement leave must rely on the parameters for use of other leaves to determine how much paid leave is available to employees.

Some districts distinguish between nondiscretionary and discretionary state and local personal leave. In these districts, nondiscretionary is defined as leave taken for allowable reasons for use of state sick leave listed in Policy DEC(LEGAL). Those reasons include a death in the employee’s immediate family. Immediate family is defined in local policy and usually includes extended family (e.g., in-laws, siblings, grandparents, grandchild) and anyone residing in the employee’s household at the time of illness or death.

Under these conditions, an employee using nondiscretionary leave may use state or local personal leave without a limit on the number of consecutive days for a death in their immediate family. Leave for other relationships would be considered discretionary leave and subject to limits addressed in policy and regulations.

Colleges are not subject to required state leave. They must rely on policy and regulations for use of leave to determine the amount of paid leave available and apply any established limits on the number of consecutive days allowed.

Family and Medical Leave (FML)

The events qualifying for FML don’t include the death of a family member. If an employee is on extended leave to care for a spouse, child, or parent during an illness, entitlement to FML ends when the person passes. However, FML may apply if the reason for leave is for the employee’s mental health care. The employer would need to determine the employee’s eligibility for a new FML event and may require the employee to provide medical certification to validate the need for leave.

Employers should consider the FMLA definition of a health care provider, which includes clinical psychologist, clinical social worker, and an individual recognized by the district or its health insurance carrier as a provider (e.g., therapist, counselor). Detailed information on authorized health care providers can be found in the HR Services article Navigating Medical Certifications: Authorized Healthcare Providers and in DOL Fact Sheet #28: Medical Certification under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

School districts must also consider an employee’s eligibility for temporary disability leave (TDL). TDL may run concurrently with FML. It can also extend beyond the 12 weeks of FML, and it may apply to employees not eligible for FML (e.g., new employees).

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

An employee unable to work because of their mental health condition may also qualify for consideration for an ADA reasonable accommodation. Leave may be a reasonable accommodation if the employee is unable to perform the essential functions of their job. However, indefinite leave is not considered reasonable.

Employers should use an interactive process to determine the employee’s need for a reasonable accommodation and document the process. Additional information on the ADA and documentation resources are available in the HR Services Resource Library (member login required). Select the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) topic filter to see available resources.

Putting it All Together

A request for an extended absence requires examining the individual circumstances to determine applicability of various leave benefits. Determining the type and length of leave available requires considering the employee’s relationship to the deceased, the impact on the employee’s mental health, and FML eligibility.

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April Mabry
April Mabry
TASB HR Services Assistant Director

April Mabry oversees HR Services training services, member library products, and the HRX newsletter. She has provided HR training and guidance to Texas public schools  since 1991. Mabry was a classroom teacher for 11 years in Texas and Michigan.

Mabry has a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Michigan and certification as a professional in human resources (PHR) and is a SHRM-CP.

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